“I never played goal so I don’t know how to coach goalies,” is a common refrain heard at hockey rinks across the country. It’s a coach’s way of washing his hands of responsibility to his most important player.
Well, a lot of my high school buddies who are youth coaches never played on the power play either but they have taken the time to develop their own man-up strategy.
Coaching goaltenders is not rocket science. Learn the position, help develop your goalies, and raise both your team’s record and its level of enjoyment.
Like anything else, a coach should seek out the assistance of people who have devoted considerable time to the position. There have never been as many books or videos on the market as there are now. Some are better than others, but almost all offer the basics needed to understand the position.
Qualified goalie coaches offer a number of services, not limited to on-ice clinics for kids. Sit down and take a crash course on fundamentals, mechanics, strategies, and on-ice drills. Then see if a goalie coach will not only run monthly clinics for the goalies in your program but will also consider an off-ice session with your program’s coaches, identifying common goalie errors by age group and common practice extremes by coaches.
The first contact between coach and goalie is likely to be tryouts or evaluations. Coaches must create a tryout environment that gives the goalie a fair chance to show what he or she is all about. This means a chance to observe their skating, athleticism, mechanics, game skills, and attitude. Scrimmages are most important because they provide game-like situations and settings. And the evaluations should be conducted so the goalie can be rated on what they do now, not what they did in last year’s playoffs. It is best to conduct “blind evaluations,” where the evaluator only knows the goalie’s number and not his name or credentials. Bring in an outside evaluator, perhaps, whose only job is to rank the goalies, noting which pairs of goalies are close and which are far apart. With this information, the program people, who know more about the kids (like who is a first year or second year player at that level) can place them on the appropriate team.
The biggest problem in the development of goalies is how they are used at practice. Or, in some cases, not used. A visit to a typical practice will find much of the following:
- Goalies being idle, perhaps left by themselves, for long stretches of time, then given 95 percent of their shots in a 20-minute block of time.
- Drills that are designed to come exclusively at the goalie (not out of the corner, not across ice).
- Drills with shooters and no defenders, so the goalie sees the puck easily.
- Drills with no rebounds or screens.
- Drills where the goalie knows in advance who will shoot and from where.
- Rapid-fire drills where the goalie faces many pucks, each for a second (as opposed to games, where the goalie has to deal with one puck for a long time, finding it through feet, staying with it after the shot.)
The reality of games (i.e. confusion and unpredictability) should be part of practice.